Dolphins and Creaky Old Houses

Okay, not in the same book.  But still, both topics are kind of irresistible, no?

greenglass house cover

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, is a children’s book for 8-12-year-olds that was recommended by another blogster, although the way she described it gave away a crucial part of the plot, which was annoying because it ruined the surprise for me.  Like describing The Crying Game as a transgender story–oh, thanks, you just gave away the whole thing.  Anyhoo, I won’t do that.

Twelve-year-old Milo lives in a creaky old four-story inn with his parents.  He’s just been released from school for Christmas break, and he’s looking forward to being with his parents and celebrating the holidays, as Christmas is a notoriously slow time for the inn, and there’s a terrific snowstorm that should keep anyone with any sense at home.

But visitors start arriving, annoying and disappointing Milo, as now his parents’ attention is taken up by being innkeepers.  They call in the cook, who usually takes off Christmas break, and her daughter Meddy is the only person around who’s Milo’s age, so they start hanging out.  The guests all seem to have some odd connection or interest in the history of the house, which intrigues Milo.  The two start an investigation of their own, and the results are unpredictable and exciting.

One of the most effective facets of the story for me was Milo’s changing understanding of himself, and how he fits into his family, as he is an adopted child.  He feels conflicted in a way I’m sure most adopted children go through, wondering if it’s ok to wonder about his birth parents or if even thinking about them is disloyal to his adoptive parents.

I also loved the creaky-old-house stuff, learning the history of who lived there before, and the significance of different design elements of this unique relic. Jaime Zollars’ illustrations are intricate (look at the that cover!) and fun.

Part coming-of-age story, part adventure, Greenglass House was a fun adventure with heart.  Not as creepy as Doll Bones, so good for the kid who doesn’t like their adventures too icky or scary.

neptune project cover

The Neptune Project, by Polly Holyoke, is a middle grade novel, so it’s aimed at a slightly older audience.  It’s a dystopian tale, which is one of my favorite genres, for child or adult.  In this version of the near future, much of the United States is now uninhabitable, thanks to global warming.  There is famine and war as well, so it’s not a super fun place to live anymore.

Nere and her mother live near present-day  Goleta, California, in a coastal fishing town, where they do important oceanic research, part of which involves a pod of dolphins.  Nere can communicate telepathically with the dolphins, which, okay, c’mon! How cool is that?  Yeah, I wanted The Day of the Dolphin (1973 film in which George C. Scott trains a pair of dolphins to talk) to be real, just like everyone else who saw that movie.  My mom tells the story of seeing it with my Dad and asking him afterwards if he thought it could be real, if the dolphins could really talk.  “Oh, yeah,” he said.  Well, she wanted it to be true! I like to think of it as optimistic gullibility (because I inherited it from her). Anyhoo, tangent.

Nere’s world turns upside down when she finds out that her mother has genetically modified her and some other children in town so that they can live underwater.  Nere is both excited and infuriated, since she had no say in this decision to change her life so dramatically.

Nere’s parents and a few others have realized that there is no future on land for humans, that the real future lies in the ocean, and more specifically, under the ocean.  So they genetically modified their children to be able to–or rather, to have to–breathe water.  Nere is part of an experiment called The Neptune Project.

Nere must quickly adjust to life under the sea to survive.  She and the others have to be alert at all times for the dangers of both marine predators and the government police looking to arrest them.  She is with a small group, and they must travel hundreds of miles at sea to meet up with the larger group that consists of the Neptune Project.  For years she thought her father was dead (her mother kept the truth from her for her own safety), but now she knows he is the director of the Neptune Project, and she can hardly believe she will see him again when (if?) she makes it to the rendezvous.

The long journey is a brilliant adventure, with close escapes and life-and-death decisions that must be made on the spur of the moment.  Nere doesn’t know most of the other children in her group, and yet she must decide who to trust almost immediately.  Sometimes things turn out well, but not always.  When one of the group is injured, they can’t simply go to a hospital, and blood in the water puts them all in danger of being attacked by sharks.

Used to being a bit of a loner, Nere is forced to find her place in a group, to find where she fits in this new life.  She’s suddenly had to become completely self-reliant, with no adults around to fall back on.

This is a great adventure about fascinating possibilities, wonderful sci-fi for kids. And the sequel comes out next month!!

Which Oz?

Okay, so I’ve been re-reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, after reading Oz Reimagined.  And I realized something.  I never read the original.  I only know the movie version ending!  That is a crime!  The real ending is sooooo different, it sends such a different message to kids.  Aunt Em doesn’t question Dorothy’s adventure or tell her she must have been dreaming, she just hugs her and tells her she’s so glad she’s home.  There’s so little respect for the Dorothy of the movie version, really for children in general.  It’s all in her head!  It never really happened.  She’s just such a flibbertigibbet! Good God, if I had read the correct version, that could have shaved years off of my therapy bills! Years, people. Thanks, Hollywood.  You suck.

wizard of oz shanary cover

On the bright side, I really enjoyed Marvel’s new (2014) graphic novel version of the first Oz book.  It’s very faithful to the text, which I was reading alongside to make sure.  Eric Shanower is the artist, and I love his drawing style.  In the back there are several pages from his sketchbook showing the evolution of the characters, and you can see just how perfect they are in their final form, especially with the Lion, who looked too fierce at first, too much like a lion at the zoo.  His finally round face (see cover above) makes him kinda cute, and more convincingly cowardly when necessary.

I also liked the color palette, which felt bright but not too bright, very earthy colors, which feels Midwestern to me.  Then when we get to Oz, it’s a really rich, deep green.

At first, when I saw it was a Marvel book, I thought Oh, no, but it has nothing to do with superheroes or tights or cleavage.  And it’s officially kid-approved, as my 7-year-old daughter loved it.

Looking up Shanower, I see that he has a several-volume set of graphic novels on the history of the Trojan War, called Age of Bronze.  Blip, just reserved it from the library.

“Donating” To Your Library

So I just paid my latest library fine, or fines, I should say.  It was over $10 on our homeschool card (We have four different cards in our family).  Yeah, if it’s over $10 then you have to pay it down to under $10 to be able to check out anything else.  I do try to keep up on renewing books online, since it’s so easy.  I even have a reminder sent to me 3 days before any of my books are due.  Still, we check out so many books…

I don’t limit my daughter on how many books she can check out. We do try to keep all the library books in one place in her bookcase (er, one of her three bookcases) but otherwise, I just let her check out whatever she’s interested in.  I just can’t fathom being a kid and having my mom tell me I can only check out three books.  The horror! I remember checking out scads and scads at a time.  The whole Beatrix Potter collection of tiny animal adventures.  Ten Encyclopedia Brown books at once.  Of course, we didn’t live super close to the library, so we only went once every couple of weeks or so.  But still, I just don’t want any limit on her interest in reading, none.  Check out 50 books, that’s fine. Whatever we can carry out of the library.

So I don’t really mind too much that I’m giving extra “donations” (air quotes) to the library via late fines.  No library police will be knocking on my door.  My library credit rating will not suffer.  I asked our librarian at my local library where those late fees go, and she said as far as she can tell, they go back into the operating expenses of the library.

I probably pay late fees over $10 an average of once every three months.  (I’m guessing because I’m a little afraid to add it up.)  How much do you pay in late fees?  Do you feel guilt?  I don’t anymore, because I see it as yet another way I’m helping the library, in addition to all my volunteering. So there.